Do All Doctors Know What Constitutes a Standard Drink?
A standard drink is the measurement that public health officials use to track the amount of alcohol that any given person consumes in a specific time frame. People who regularly consume too many drinks in a day or week significantly increase their chances of developing diagnosable symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Public health guidelines call upon doctors to assess the drinking behaviors of their patients and identify risky practices. In a study published in March/April 2014 in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the University of Maryland sought to determine how many doctors are familiar with the amount of alcohol contained in a standard drink.
A standard drink contains 0.6-oz of pure ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol or drinking alcohol. However, not all alcoholic beverages contain the same amount of ethyl alcohol. According to data provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the average 12-oz. can or bottle of beer constitutes one standard drink. The average 9-oz. serving of malt liquor constitutes a standard drink; a 12-oz. serving of this alcoholic beverage constitutes 1.5 standard drinks, while a 40-oz. container of malt liquor constitutes 3.3 standard drinks. The average 5-oz. serving of wine also constitutes a single standard drink of alcohol, as does the average 1.5-oz. serving of 80-proof distilled liquor (whiskey, gin, vodka, etc.). The average serving of a mixed beverage containing distilled liquor can constitute anywhere from one to three standard drinks.
Impact on Alcohol-Related Risks
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also provides information on the risks associated with consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol on a daily or weekly basis. As a rule, moderate alcohol intake is defined as consuming no more than four standard drinks in one day or 14 drinks in one week if you’re male. Female moderate drinkers can consume no more than three standard drinks in one day or seven drinks in one week. All levels of alcohol intake above these daily and weekly amounts for each gender qualify as heavy drinking.
A person who drinks heavily once every 30 days has a roughly 20 percent chance of developing a diagnosable case of alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism at some point in his or her life. A person who drinks heavily once every seven days has a roughly 33 percent chance of developing separate or overlapping symptoms of these problems, while a person who drinks heavily at least twice every seven days has about a 50 percent chance of being diagnosed with alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism.
Assessing Doctors’ Knowledge
In the study published in the American Journal on Addictions, the University of Maryland researchers used a survey involving 270 doctors classified as residents to assess the level of knowledge that physicians have regarding standard drink equivalents for various alcoholic beverages. (Residents have graduated from medical school, but have not yet completed specialized training in a specific field of medicine. As part of their education, they often work in clinics or hospitals and see patients with a wide array of health concerns.) In addition to basic knowledge of the amount of any given form of alcohol that constitutes a standard drink, the survey asked the residents to estimate the number of drinks held in different types of alcohol containers.
The researchers found that the vast majority (89 percent) of the participating residents had received prior training on how to screen their patients for potential symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism (such a screening typically includes questions about the number of drinks any particular patient consumes on a regular basis). However, they also concluded that over half of all the participating residents did not have a firm grasp on the information needed to determine the amount of ethyl alcohol contained in a given serving of alcohol.
Guidelines issued by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism call on doctors to play a critical role by regularly screening their patients for drinking patterns that increase risks for developing alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The authors of the study published in the American Journal on Addictions believe their findings indicate that a substantial number of doctors (specifically, residents who often work in clinics or hospitals) may not have the knowledge they need to gauge their patients’ drinking-related risks. They note that this lack of knowledge may have a considerable adverse impact on the success of alcohol screenings.